Munsell Neutral Cubes - A Tone Exercise

For some time now I've been preoccupied with tone. The more I work with it, the more I become convinced that a well observed balance of tones is the key to creating a feeling of light, and by extension form. Frank Reilly reckoned that tones (well, being from the US he called them values) are 80% of a good picture. Who am I to disagree? But I've been wrestling with a basic problem in painting for as long as I've been interested in tone: How to deal with the fact that the available value range from light to dark is much more narrow in paint than it is in nature. Today's exercises have finally convinced me that I've got the answer to that problem - or at least, one answer. This post is going to get a bit technical, and there'll be numbers involved. For that I apologise, but there's no avoiding it. Regular visitors will be used to me harping on about tone by now. The series of still life drawings were started to try to gain some insight into this problem. After a few of those, I came to the conclusion that compressing the tonal range whilst preserving the ratios between the tones was an approach that worked quite well. The blue and red cast paintings showed me that it was possible to compress the tonal range in a painting dramatically, yet still create form and light. Today I worked on a few little exercises which finally proved to me, beyond all doubt, the validity of this approach. First, some background on the theory behind these exercises:

This collection of painted wooden cubes, styrofoam spheres and MDF dog tags is what I call my Munsell neutral value set. They've been created for one reason - to help me get a better appreciation of tone. I'll be using them in a series of exercises over the coming months, all designed to investigate how light behaves when it hits a form, and how best to translate that into a painting. I'll move onto colour later, I'm one of those boring methodical people that likes to follow a logically ordered first. If I can crack this, and Mr. Reilly is right about his 80%, then colour should be substantially easier to handle. I won't go into any detail here about Munsell, since it's been done very well elsewhere, but if it's new to you, the Wikipedia Munsell page looks pretty comprehensive. Frank Reilly developed the Munsell system into a practical tool for painting. I first came across Munsell

through Graydon Parrish, a superlative contemporary academic realist painter from the US. He's developed and expanded on Reilly's method and has evolved his own approach to colour based on it. He was himself taught by one of Reilly's students, so he knows what he's about when it comes to this stuff. Enough background. I recently got hold of the Munsell Student book. This is an overview of the Munsell system and it's application to painting. It includes colour chips for some of the Munsell colours, among them a Munsell neutral value scale. The cubes, spheres and tags in the photo above have been painted to match the values of this scale. The Three Cubes Exercise I'm calling this exercise the three cubes exercise because it involves three cubes. No point complicating matters. I've taken one white cube, one black one, and one a mid grey (a value 5 in Munsell). The first stage was to paint each one in isolation, starting with the value 5 one. This should be the easiest, since I know I can hit all the values I see within the available range of my oil paint. Like all these exercises today, this cube was painted sitting on a grey cloth (local about a Munsell 5.5 I think) in my shadow box. All the paintings have been done in natural light from the window. The light did change a little through the day, but that didn't really matter since it's the relationships and not the actual values which count here. One of the things I had to decide today was how I was going to use the value tags to help me judge the tones. Since I want to get as close as I can to the values I see with this grey cube, I used them by holding them up in front of the cube and comparing the values. For the purposes of this exercise, I was careful to hold the tags at the same angle to the light as the panel I'm painting on. This is my value 8 chip, so the plane of the value 5 cube facing the light appears as a value 8, pretty much. Actually, I think I adjusted it somewhat at the end, but this was the starting point. Obviously, if I angle the tag towards the light, it will appear to be a lighter value, and vice versa. That will throw things off. I want to get the values I see onto my panel accurately for his cube, so by keeping the light on my tag and my panel the same I should be able to get close. This approach is going to give me trouble later, especially with the white cube, but we'll get to that shortly. This is the same process for the value of the top plane. This time I've got a value 6 or thereabouts, which is one step up from the 'local' tone of the cube. I did this five times, Once for each plane of the cube, once for the background cloth, and once for the cast shadow. What I ended up with is four separate values, which should be all I need to paint this cube as I see it. Since the value of the cloth and the local value of the cube are very similar, the value of the cast shadow will be very close to the value of the plane of the cube in shadow. I'm thinking about Loomis and the truths of the form principle whilst I'm doing this. This one, whilst obvious, is certainly

but here it is: The value of a cast shadow is determined by the value of the object it is cast onto.5 in this painting. That part was just done by eye. it would be if you could get black (that is. which doubtless Loomis thought was too obvious to include. The shadow planes will be those planes lying in or beyond the direction of the light so that the light of the original source cannot reach them. so good. nice and simple. The cloth has for some reason gone up to a 7. That'll become more relevant later. half tone (the top of the cube). not the one which casts it. the better I get at it. reducing the steps in the light and half tone planes mostly.relevant here: "The lightest areas of the form will be within those planes lying most nearly at right angles to the light. Well. The painting of the cube turned out pretty close to what I saw. as close as I can get to value 1. I can't remember why I did that now. The black and white were ivory black and titanium white. the shadow plane and the cast shadow.I can't hit the black of the shadow plane on this cube with paint. Next job is to mix up some of each value I'm going to need. part two – the Black Cube This cube has been painted black. Unfortunately I haven't managed to get such a good picture of this one. and seemed to me to be pretty consistently following the form principle. I'm finding that the more often I mix up values to match my tags. I only need four so it won't take long. The top plane is a 2 and the light plane is a 4. I should point out here that these are Munsell neutral greys. The shadow plane of the cube is ivory black. but I've got 2. no light) in paint. The cast shadows are the results of the light having been intercepted. That presents me with my first problem . The half-tone planes will be those obliquely situated to the direction of the light. light plane. So here's the results of the first exercise. I've adjusted some of the tones. I'd like to add another truth. And here's my Munsell values. Thankfully. It's actually about a 1. The cast shadow being the same value as the shadow plane of the cube helps the eye to read the cloth and cube as pretty much the same value (in local terms) and helps the half tone and light planes to work I think. It does the job well. At first I found it very hard and it took forever just to match a single value. as before. which means adding something to take away the bluish cast that black and white alone will give to the grey. and the shape of such intercepting forms will be projected onto other planes. But I'm pretty sure that one of the many advantages of doing these exercises will be a more sensitive and accurate eye when it comes to judging values in nature. That's what I've got here.5 I think. the light got stronger I think. So far. which you can't. which is what I used. for the cast shadow. . I'll be very bloody disappointed if that doesn't happen. a value 1 in Munsell. The Munsell student book recommends using burnt sienna for this.

I got round that by finding the number of steps from the top plane down to the shadow plane of the cube (it was 5). This simple little white cube is out of my available range. I could translate that to the narrower range I can hit with paint. I think it works as a black cube on a grey cloth. To do this. It doesn't make for a more convincing picture. There must be something off about the relationships I think. What to do? I can hold all my tags up at the angle of the light plane. If I hold up my lightest tag. Once I knew the total range of the steps I could see. That's what I mean by going out of my range. it's always going to appear darker than the light plane of the white cube unless I hold it at the same angle to the light as that plane of the cube.the White Cube I was expecting this one to be hard. but this time held them at the same angle to the light as my panel. but angled towards the light it's still showing lighter than the cast shadow. I got 5 steps. so I need to work out how much I compress the steps of the value range by to get a convincing picture of this cube. at least. but I've tried that before and it just makes for a darker picture. from painting the black cube. and so far I've been doing that by eye. I'm comparing the light plane with the cast shadow. particularly using my method of holding up the value tags at the same angle to the light as my panel. First. that my black facing the light appears as a value 4. the black one. In principle. and I use another chip. I'm holding up my darkest tag. I already know. to see how many steps of the scale I need to go down to get to the tone of the top plane. The grey tag there is a value 7. at least the one I used today. Then I went back to my tags. I angled my tags towards the light. But I've often been less than convinced by the results. and found the number of steps between the shadow plane of the cube and the cast shadow. . at the same angle to the light. Here. Somehow this cube doesn't work as well for me as the first one. The tags were invaluable here. But overall. was to work out the difference in steps of the Munsell scale between each tone block. but that will throw out my darks. the white one. I could drop all the other values in the picture to compensate for my white appearing as a light grey. so I'm seeing three steps down from the light to the half tone. I know that I need to compress the tones in order to get this painting to work as a white cube. Now my white tag matches the value of the light plane of the cube. not in my experience. for which I'll be using pure white. This really comes to the heart of what I wanted to figure out with these exercises. But the cast shadow I know is a value 2. I needed to find how many steps the top plane (my half tone) was down from the light plane. I know that I want to preserve the ratios between the tones. The solution.Part three .

I've translated my value 13 white to a Munsell 10 (actually more like a 9 in reality. It will take a few repeats of this exercise to discover whether that's simply because . Most likely there are simpler ways to arrive at the same conclusion. and work out where each value will fall in that range. to see once and for all if my idea of compressing the value range but keeping the ratios the same would work with a subject outside of my available range. whilst compressing the value range. I've already done it. To my eyes. up to 10 for the light plane of the cube. I can't get a value 13 in paint. The top plane falls at around 8. I hope it was worth it. and I've ended the range at the cast shadow. The top plane is 3 steps down from the light plane.Hopefully this gives some idea of what I've done. I'm starting with the cast shadow at 2. But I really wanted to tie this down today. the painting of the white cube does look like a white cube on a grey cloth. but now I can choose the range I'm going to work with. For now. I normally glaze over when I see value charts like this. in the same painting. that gives me fourteen steps. which is already over long. I'm happy that I've proved to myself that compressing the value range is a valid approach. or a 0. To wrap up. works the best of the three. the only one here for which I can exactly match the values I see in paint. the white cube looks like a white cube despite the fact that the steps between the values in my painting are smaller than they were on the actual cube. The next stage of this exercise is a painting of all three of these cubes together. That brings up the range problem at both ends of the scale. but I'm too tired to include it in this post. I think it works because the relationships between the values have been preserved. Hopefully I'll get it up on the site tomorrow. which I've kept accurate at 2. Did it work? Well. here's the three cubes together. All together. and I'm quite sure that many generations of painters have been doing this by eye and getting along fine. But still. The cast shadow is 5 steps down from the shadow plane. If you've managed to get this far through this post. so I'd say yes. the grey cube. the shadow plane at 5. 13 to 0. but I can't see another way to show this. white paint). The shadow plane is 5 steps down from the top plane. now you know how I worked out a way to keep the ratios between the tones the same. it did.

The Munsell value 1. I need to post a correction here. Munsell Cubes . Amanda emailed me wanting to know why I had ten of everything in my Munsell set. I already knew at this point the steps needed between the values of each plane of the three cubes. Black isn't 1. True black (no light) is a Munsell 0. and three steps from the half tone to the shadow plane. I've never been good with numbers. . That will extend the range further.5 Munsell steps between the top plane of the black cube and the shadow plane. which I'd painted black. I've compressed the dark end of the scale. and should translate directly into better and more convincing paintings eventually. Apart from dropping the tones on the light and half tone planes of the grey cube.5. it should be a simple matter of adding black to the values from the painting of the white cube. I do think I've got a lot more practice to do with this. is actually one step above black.5.5. it's only 1. exacerbated by the fact that ivory black paint is higher than a value 1 in reality. Graydon emailed me saying that black is 0. On the black one. Of course that throws all my maths here out. the relationships between the planes of those two cubes are the same: one step down from the light plane to the half tone (the top plane). I've got something like 2.A Tone Exercise Having come up with a way of working out the relationships between the tones of the white cube. there's three steps between the top plane and the shadow plane. At least they were educated guesses though. On the other cubes. or because I didn't compress them quite right on the black and the white cube. So I went back to the Munsell student book and read the chapter on the neutral scale again. but at least I've proved to myself that the basic principle is sound. I've been working under a misconception with my black. but 11 separate tones. and dramatically increase the number of tones to control. The relationship between the shadow plane and the top plane of the black cube is compressed though. So in fact.5. it's 0. but to be honest I was too excited and steamed straight in with what you might call guesses for the tonal relationships. Loomis would rap my knuckles for departing from the form principle there. the most obvious next step was to put all three cubes together in one painting. That can't be right.not achievable in paint) there are ten steps. when she only had nine. The values of the white and grey cubes hold pretty true to Loomis' form principle I think.I didn't need to compress the value relationships. So in the Munsell scale from black (0) to white (10 . The student Munsell book has no value chip for 1 since they say it's not achievable in matt finish chips. I planned to use the same system as I did for the white cube.

Despite that. It all seems to work pretty well until you get to the highlights on the saucer. .. To my eye. A lot of my sketches from last year are like that. allowing for that. Perhaps I was feeling what I'd missed in the numbers. I lightened the light and half tone planes on the black cube. I'm not alone. I think these cubes came out ok. hue being the third) I can perhaps stick some bits of fruit in and see what happens. so couldn't add the little white highlight on the top edge of that plane. Despite the departure from strict adherence to the form principle. this is one of hers. I think the values on the cube painting have come out pretty well. I can't help wondering what this painting would look like with the tones worked out again. whether it helps to create a more convincing impression of the light. After doing a few colour ones and getting at least some grasp of chroma (the second of Munsell's three elements of colour. That's pretty funny. I take it to mean that most of the values in the painting are pretty convincing. Perhaps because I'd used my lightest light on the light plane. if I can. Someone emailed me once to say they liked the picture. which the other two cubes have. mentioning that when they originally saw the painting in a small thumbnail view. What's interesting though is that on the final painting. My painter friend Marsha is painting Munsell cubes too. they thought it was a photo on which the highlights had been painted. This exercise has fired me up. it seemed to need it. blue cube because she just couldn't wait. That's the kind of thing I want to resolve. Each cube seems to me to be reading right against it's neighbours in terms of values. Marsha's done the three cubes exercise though. with big problems in the tonal balance. I think. That's another small thing I'd like to work out in paint before going too much further. That might seem a bit obsessive. The tones look completely convincing to me. She started on a blue cube because she just couldn't wait.. I'm pretty encouraged by the first go at this. and am immediately itching to try some colour cubes. The point about the missing highlight on the white cube is pretty well shown by this painting I think. although I'm less convinced by the white cube.cubes of different value and chroma in the hue of 5YR in Munsell (orange. and that's what these exercises are all about. and are pretty close to the value relationships I got for my cubes. the yardstick for whether or not this way of compressing the tonal range helps is whether it will make for a better painting. The relationships are still compressed on that cube when compared to the other two though. so there'll probably be another couple of versions of this set up. to us mortals). this little blue cube has a palpable reality and solidity to it. and the 5YR cubes . and I'm immediately thinking about other exercises I can do with the cubes and spheres. I know just how she feels. but these exercises have to be related back to the real world of painting pictures at some point. but the highlights aren't light enough in relation to the other elements to work. This here is one nicely painted cube. To me. on the black cube.

"In all quieter aspects of lighting this range from black to white paint is sufficient. and to proceed thus. Just to confuse matters. The Boston Museum School (I think) had an exercise in drawing these three shapes. these passages deal with catching the more brilliant effects of light in nature with paint. and taking something very near pure white as your highest light. These approaches are mentioned by Harold Speed. brilliantly lit effects are wanted. is to begin near the light end of the scale. from the lightest to the darkest. and looking at various approaches to the problem. pretty early. and have been mulling over exactly the same problems of tone. He then talks about the approach of starting with the lightest light and darkest dark. and I think it's pretty sound. Then he describes the opposite approach to the first one: "The third way. in a lot of ways. What you're effectively doing is shifting the tones you see down the scale and running out of space at the bottom. It strikes me that it would be very interesting to try the first and third approaches.Amanda. and this is the more modern. He's talking about tonal relationships in his chapter on 'Unity of Mass'. as all clear thinking people are. something has to be sacrificed In order to increase the relationship between some of the tones others must be sacrificed. But where strong. He cites Rembrandt and his dark paintings as an example of this. See how the Internet can confuse you. is to begin from the dark end of the scale. She's got cones too. black. proceeding towards the light. sphere and cone. and so on. but perhaps I'm being pedantic. is also doing these tone exercises. Speed. Adding cones strikes me as a pretty good idea. but she's gone clear. like compressing the tonal range as I've done here. you will arrive at your highest light in paint before the highest light in nature has been reached. Robert has listed a lot of possible approaches to this 'range problem'. In particular. Amanda also gets extra appreciation from me for being civilised and using the word 'tone' instead of 'value'. I use both words interchangeably these days. In particular. I'm not a big fan of Cezanne personally. instead of at the dark end in the other case" Harold says that this will result in a more brilliant picture. another painter friend. We think alike. which was the earliest method adopted. It also harks back to Cezanne's idea that all nature could be reduced down to the basic forms of the cube. To be fair though. Robert pointed me to a couple of pages of Speed's "The Practice and Science of Drawing" which are so relevant here I'm going to quote them. and is effective for representing sunlight. tone by tone. this is her Munsell set. The first. . I've also been corresponding with my painter friend Robert about this tone problem. My white cube tells me otherwise. on Harold's advice. he's talking here about the fact that paint can't match the tonal range of nature. There are two ways of doing this. but drawing of geometric shapes has been featured in some well respected courses. By this method. or doing the same at the bottom end of the range with the darks. to get the relationships between this and the next nearest tone. Harold does say that the range of paint is sufficient for catching normal interior light. All variety of tone at the light end of the scale will have to be modified in this case. or accepting the upper limit and averaging lights." Harold points out that if you do this you'll hit your darkest dark. getting the true relationship felt between the greatest dark and the next darkest tone to it. and progressing from there. Me and Robert are down with Mr. I've used that approach.

We can't get a true white either. Having a good command of that. and putting it in the service of the creation of something with a bit more feeling than a painting of grey cubes. we can't get black. My white tag looks lower than that. Adding pure ivory black at the end would give me another tag at 0. but it's nice to have my little Munsell tags bear it out. placing the lightest light and darkest dark first. perhaps the most notable exponent of the use of Munsell in painting.5. What the point-something is I'm not entirely sure.using the Munsell tags. Which ever way you look at it. But like Magnus Magnusson. this is a way to practice and to develop this faculty of judging tones. Back to the palette. is a practical way of compressing the tones. Now we've got the palette straight. but I'm not going to disagree. That makes eleven tones. locating values and then compressing the range is effective. I have Graydon to thank for starting me on these exercises. and reading from left to right on the palette above. 2. I've also got a strong feeling it's possible to do this by eye.5. Of course that throws out all the sums I've been doing so far to work out how to compress the tonal range but keep the ratios between the tones the same. we have 9.translating light into paint . Ivory black oil paint. 5. 8. 6. believes that titanium white can get up to a 9. Here's my Munsell neutral palette as it stands now. lets get onto the pictures. That thought struck me some time ago. for now. I can feel two more white cube paintings coming on.5. and raised many more. The Munsell scale goes from 0 (black) to 10 (white).?. but without the safety net of the Munsell tags.is too difficult to grasp. Look him up on Google if you want to see what he can do with brushes and paint. I thought true black was value 1 in Munsell. I've now answered one or two questions I've had for a while about tone. 9. with ten steps in between. has evolved an approach to colour based on it. 7. I'm pretty sure that the approach of finding the full range of Munsell steps in the subject. and is a modern day Apelles as far as I'm concerned. 3. or both. maybe through experience. is the eventual goal. on the white cube. There have been moments over the last few days at the easel when I've felt that this subject . I didn't even have a wide enough range to hit all the values of a white cube on a grey cloth. and how better to translate it to a picture.5. . so it's nine-pointsomething. The second approach he mentions. He's quite possibly spent more time with Munsell than any other living painter. 4. it's more like 0. since you'll be working from both ends to the middle. it's 0. sheer talent. So some kind of transformation has to be done to paint a representational picture of nature. In paint. For me though. I'm also hoping that a close study of tone will help me to understand better how light works in nature. Graydon Parrish. there's no doubt that you can't hit the entire range of tones in nature within the range of paint. The first and most important point I need to make today is that I've realised that I'd got my Munsell scale wrong in the last couple of posts. is actually 0.75. 1. More Munsell Tone Studies The cubes keep coming. I've started so I'll finish. It isn't. More like what I've done here with the aid of the Munsell value tags. which I thought was 1.

I thought it would be wise to do another with the numbers for the values more accurately worked out. my Munsell tags told me that I had thirteen steps in the subject from my lightest light to my darkest dark. This picture shows the first version and second. whether the given object was a light or a dark colour. Perhaps I'll get it better still when I come to do a version in which I finally get the sums right. but I'm doing it mathematically in order to make sure I get it right. I rounded the figures up or down for the painting though. However. I'm going to have to do this particular exercise again. so I compressed each relationship by 0. that's the way I read it. so. The light and half tone planes of the value 5 and black cube have also got a little lighter. For this version.In the last post was a painting of three cubes.76. leaving myself a bit of headroom on my lights. my eye isn't nearly sensitive enough to perceive and correctly mix a difference of a tenth of a step. Another change here is that I used a Munsell 9 for the light plane of the white cube. I could try to do that by eye. and then compress the ratios down to the range I have available in my paint. Which do you think is the most convincing? The second version was done when I was still working under the misconception that black was 1. Overall. I'd say that the light appears more diffuse. by holding up two tags over adjacent areas of tone and counting the steps between them. say. of course. less strong than it does in the first one. The point of that exercise was to figure out how many Munsell steps I had in my subject. But I also think that each cube works more convincingly as a part of the whole. At least. Loomis points out that in order to create a consistent feeling of light in a painting. I can see it. I did this so that I could add the highlight down the top edge of the light plane of the white cube. Since I'd done my sums wrong in the first stab at the three cubes exercise. In "Creative Illustration". five steps. I was careful to stick to that rule in the second version here. as far as I could. The first post in this series describes how I arrive at the number of Munsell steps I can see in my subject. the white cube in particular. It's there. so the ratios are never exact in any case. one a value 5 (mid grey) and one black. one white. corrected version below it: The most noticeable difference is that the cast shadows and the shadow plane of the white cube are significantly lighter in the second version. That may have helped the light to feel more consistent across the three cubes. so I want to paint it. I do think that the second version is more convincing than the first. One final point about the second version. the relationships between the tones of the light and shadow planes should be consistent across all the objects. The final stage of the exercise is always some adjustment by eye. I should get the answers I need visually from the resulting paintings. So the difference between a light plane and a shadow plane would be. .5.

and is consistent with what Harold says about it being a way to fill the painting with light.But now I come to one of the questions that this practice has raised. it's entirely up to the painter what feeling of light he or she wants to convey. but I must believe the evidence of my eyes. After the second three cubes exercise came two small paintings of the white cube. and a good command of tonal balance should mean the ability to do that as and when the painting requires it. My Munsell tags should be letting me get these steps much more accurate than I could get them simply by looking. on my white. there's nothing to paint at all. there are 7 steps between the light plane and the shadow plane. Although the form seems less defined to me in this version. whilst keeping the steps in tone perceptually accurate. This method means running out of room at the top end of the scale. The three cubes exercise will also be done again. That will make the compression of the two ends of the scale much more obvious and the effect that much more dramatic. the darks or the lights. This was a very interesting exercise. Every time I get the same result. Without it. I've hit black (0. In the first. there appears to be a stronger overall feeling of light. According to Harold. this is how Rembrandt would paint a white cube. matching the steps in tone as accurately as you can. I plan to get myself down to the National Gallery and see what I can learn there. On the value 5 cube. I think he's right. so I started at a value 2 for the cast shadow. The effect is one of sharply focused. so it appears darker in the painting than it appeared to my eye. as if the cube is bathed in diffused light. The compression is more obvious here. Back to the excercises. it showed me that tone relationships can be manipulated for effect. But the light plane of the cube fairly shines out. What this really comes down to is a method that can be used to investigate how light behaves when it hits a form. Although the tags. As long as the form isn't completely lost. there are 6 steps. I've checked time and again over the last few days. The second approach is the opposite. In both cases. This is Turner's cube.5) for my cast shadow. I think. until you run out of available range. Here are the results. And that. My Munsell chips tell me that the ratios of light to dark are not the same across my three cubes. value steps and maths may seem unduly technical to some people. where he described two approaches to handling tone. the range is compressed at one end. Except perhaps that he would do a better job of it. On the white cube. you work down from the lights. to get answers to questions of tone through purely empirical means. there are 5. using these two approaches. . together with the background. my value 5 and my black cube. is the greatest benefit of this method of practice. You might recall me quoting Harold Speed in the last post. keeping the steps in tone perceptually accurate. working up from the darks. The only way for me to be sure about this is to do some exercises designed to investigate it further. cubes. Does this mean that we perceive more tonal contrast in lighter objects? Does it mean that Loomis is wrong? I find that hard to believe. On the black cube. with the half tone and shadow planes of the cube. The second cube is painted up from the darks. coming out much lighter. The first painting at the top is working down from the lights. what painter wouldn't benefit from a greater understanding of light? Light is what we paint. directional light. The cubes and the Munsell tags can be used to pin these things down.

Six steps between the light and the dark. Spheres are hard. so there shouldn't be much more to do than lay them down in the right places. Harold Speed taught me that quality of line is as important as tone in showing form. I know now how easily my eyes can be fooled when it comes to judging tonal relationships. I measured it and got eight steps. Cubes are easy. At one point. then blend a little between them. Spheres are hard. The highlight is extra to those. I was getting a bit tired of painting cubes. But tonally speaking. It was during the planning of this painting that I first noticed the wider range of tones on the white cube. I think the cube sketch is more effective than the sphere. Having just painted the cube. I knew exactly what values to use for the sphere. no need to compress or sacrifice anything. Encouraged by . so the process is far from infallible in my hands. both paintings looked very close to what I saw. even compression.The next stage was to introduce a sphere. Six in direct sunlight. 5 for the black one. my cubes and my Munsell tags disagreed. half-tone and light planes. To be quite honest. Cubes are easy. to get some kind of visual truth. trying to be lead as much as possible by what my eyes told me. I felt the need to just paint something. shining directly into the window. too. But the practice with the value 5 cube helped me paint this value 5 sphere. I'll have to test this a lot more too. But thereafter I consistently got 7 steps. After all that working out of tones. so I'll have to paint some more spheres. Another aspect of this practice is to learn how to model form more convincingly. From reading Loomis. Another question was raised that day when the sun came out a few times. Rather than thinking about the surface of the sphere as a whole (and panicking) I tried to split it into the shadow. no matter how many times I measured it. With my value 5 cube. I have the impression that tonal contrast is stronger in direct sunlight than it is in diffuse. and I think are getting closer to an accurate. I've tried to work the line here. overcast light. The reality was a protracted period of sweating and swearing whilst I tried to get it look right. But my eyes have told me plenty of things that my tags have disproved. 6 steps for the grey cube. The values for this painting were worked out more carefully again. This little sketch was done with the idea that I wanted to get as close to what I saw as I could. I can hit all the tones perfectly well. particularly since my eyes tell me that Loomis is right. Some time ago. The amusing thing about this sketch is that it took me over six hours to plan out the values of the tones and about an hour to paint it. I can paint the tonal balance exactly as I see it. Again. I've included the Munsell values on the right.

what I'd learned so far and by these last two sketches. specifically the local value. So I've started adding them now. it's largely a case of refining the cube and sphere. One part of the form principle which I very much agree with is that texture applies only to areas in the light. Those sketches will have to wait for another day. I painted it along with my cube and sphere. Shadows are without detail. showing the values in clearly defined planes. When it comes to painting the object. I think this was a good exercise. Having been blessed with a series of overcast days last week (which means no direct sunlight coming through the window in the afternoon) I've had the opportunity to move on somewhat with the tone studies. For this batch I've been adding the odd real object to supplement the cubes and spheres. the lemon in this case. It's been illuminating. Having judged this lemon to be a local value of 7 (ish). The cube becomes a cipher for the tonal balance of the lemon. the sphere and pear are the first time I've really had to deal with reflected light in these exercises. and the value is close to my v5 cube and sphere. I wanted to have a go at something real. maybe half a step above. how hard could a pear be? Well. It reflects up from the v5. The sphere gives an opportunity to play with modelling of soft edges and some reflected light. . So I was already in the ball park with the values and had modelled a sphere. but unfortunately I ran out of daylight and had to stop. One of the many epiphanies I've had over the last few days is that I've been consistently painting reflected light too light. I think it's about right on this pear. Since I'm working in a shadow box lined with dark grey cloth to cut out reflected light.5 cloth onto the curved edges in shadow. the light plane and the half tone. harder than the sphere. This pear fit the bill since the colour is low chroma. One of the problems I'll have when I come to relate this practice with cubes to real world paintings will be correctly judging the tones. That's all I'm saying. weakening the form and the feeling of light. Reflected light does have an influence on the modelling of shadow planes and cast shadows though. of real world objects. I would have loved to do this pear using the 'lights down' and 'darks up' approaches too.

Each stage is a preparation for the next. When I get to the lemon. But there seems to be a pattern developing in these studies. The next stage is to add the shadow planes of the objects. the balance of tones. If . It was beginning to sink in at this point how important the relationship between the shadow plane of an object and it's cast shadow is. Here's another in the same vein. I've been spending most of my energy on the lights up until now. A little over a year ago I painted a red pepper. Next up is a simple study of spheres. which is echoed by the way I build up each study: The first thing to go in is the overall value of the cloth.It strikes me that this is conceptually very like a Bargue approach. 5 and 3. Although I've only been working on these studies for a short time. The numbered Munsell neutral palette lets me pick up what I need and get right into painting. but with tone. especially in comparison with the shadows around the stalk. The more of these studies I do. These are values 8. I'm considerably encouraged by that. although it's grey. I have enough of my range left I think. The cube is the first tone schematic and the sphere a further refinement before moving on to the final piece. This is interesting to me. At this point. I see how light I've done the shadow plane on the skin of the pepper. my colours (or tones) are mixed and ready. the light environment of the painting. Everything that comes after this point will need to be judged in relation to these two main values. This time I judged the value of the green pepper to be a 4. it looks more like two here. Then the cast shadows of the objects. This new pepper. But I could add a white or a black sphere to this study without upsetting the balance of the tones. I don't have to think about what values I need. completely out of relationship with the light and shadow planes of the wooden shelf the pepper is sitting on. I'll be doing some more of these. has more life and more physicality to me than the red one of April last year. I thought that was one of the better sketches at the time. It's way too light. Which are also wrong. I can't differentiate between the shadow plane of the pepper and the shadows around the stalk. the more I begin to see how important the values of the shadow planes as a whole are. is established. The shadow plane of the stalk itself is also much too dark. In this tone study. I'm beginning to home in quickly on tonal mistakes in my older paintings. since I've already worked them out on the cube. All I have to think about is the modelling and handling of the paint. Although I know that there's three Munsell steps between each. The value of the shadow plane in relation to the cast shadow defines whether the object is lighter or darker than the cloth. but looking at it now I'm struck by the many tonal mistakes.

The shadow plane of the black sphere is darker than the cast shadow. and made sure that the shadow plane is sufficiently lighter than the cast shadow. I know the local value of the object is darker. leaving the lights to take care of themselves. and just tried to get the relationships of the shadow planes right. The shadows are as important as the lights in defining the local value of an object. and many more studies to be done. As long as they fit with the existing relationships. Valuable lesson learned.the shadow plane of the object is lighter than the cast shadow. the value 5 sphere. This last study is of my white. Somehow my eye is tricked into seeing the highlight on the silver as lighter than it really is. Coming soon: silver cup and white sphere. the value of the shadow plane and the cast shadow are almost the same. I have the distinct impression that I've learned something very useful through this batch. hard edged blocks of tone. value 5 and black spheres. I had the relationships of the shadow planes to the cast shadows uppermost in my mind with this one. But everything still has to relate to that basic relationship of the main background value and the cast shadow. For the white sphere. the shadow planes tend to reflect whatever is around them. . If darker. I've essentially ignored the fact that I can't match the lightest light. someone remind me when I'm next at the easel. more than the lights perhaps. I'm fond of painting silver. I ignored the limitations of the paint for once. a convincing impression of light should come into the picture. This study convinced me even more that it's the shadow planes and the background that really matter. The complication with very reflective objects is two-fold I think. but if the relationships hold water then the light will work. And oddly enough they did. The painting can still be very crude at this point. throwing off the value. Now it remains only to add the light and half tone planes. just rough. Secondly. so they're even further out of the available range of paint on a flat plane. That doesn't come out so well in this photo though. Firstly. I know that the local value of the object is lighter than that of the cloth. Although I know that there's much more to learn here. For the middle one. This study was a test to see if what I'd learned so far about tonal relationships in a painting would translate to something tonally more difficult like this. the highlights reflect more light than the light plane of a white cube. I must do some studies to play with this.

Time will tell whether or not I get the whole lot done. trying to deal only with the big shapes. I can't hit that full range with paint. Next comes the shadow planes of the cube and sphere. with no work on the edges yet . there's not a lot of detail on a cube and sphere in the first place. This sphere seems to have darkened a little as the paint dried. also thin and even. I used white for the light planes. here they are. painted opaquely. just neat paint as it comes out of the tube. trying to move down by less than a whole step each time. I'm half way through the first batch now. the white sphere. but as thin and even as possible. It appears to me that some reflected light from the cloth bounces up to the underside of the spheres. the first. with all the object in shadow. About this point I started changing the way I paint these studies. three quarters in shadow. and front light. scrubbed in thin with a bright. with no shadows. and the cast shadows fairly constant at around 3. So I need to compress as I go down. Working in a shadow box lined with dark cloth. This is actually a nine-point-something in Munsell terms. I have little or no reflected light on the cubes. rim light is the opposite. . Some of these were done on different days though. Of course. it's only a little above a 9 now.Now the starters are out of the way. Although I know that in reality. The original plan with these cubes and spheres was to paint each one in four different lighting conditions. so most of the softening of the edges of the shadows can be done then. It's the opposite of the way I'd usually paint something white. I'm not using any medium for a change. there's a whole step in Munsell terms between each of these cubes and shperes. the main relationships are established. and the light was a bit different. The current order is background first. I'm thinking about the form principle as I do this. but that comes in at the end. I'm keeping the background fairly constant at around 7. I'm not convinced that makes a difference to the relationships though. is three quarters in light. I'm still trying to keep the shadows as even and featureless as I can. The first one. Form light. Next comes the cast shadow. At that point. I'm finding that moving down in single Munsell steps with these studies is not all that easy. All the same. The other two are back light. meaning there's no room left for highlights. Apologies for the slightly fuzzy pictures. it's time for the main course. I should be able to hold those all the way down to the black cube and sphere.

This goes back to something I read about Howard Pyle's teaching in "Creative Illustration". With the value five cube I've hit the same value in the shadow plane and the cast shadow. The tones should be enough to carry it.The light planes I've started putting in with thick impasto. . and are built up in much the same way . In reality. if the relationships are right.5 (the black that I'll be using for the shadow plane of the black cube). I'm relearning what I learned about the compression of tones in that exercise and the red and blue still life exercises. In short. I need to leave some room in the darks for when I get to the value 3. Texture belongs to the light. the objects will be a darker tone than the cloth. It makes the shadows look softer and and more convincing I think. the cast shadows are darker than I'm painting them here. For the last four of this batch. I'd struggle then if I tried to paint a dark and light object together in a painting. This cube and sphere are (about) the same local value as the cloth. not to the shadow. As well as making it possible to build up the edges and get sharp edges where they're warranted. to see how little you can get away with. I think that this is a probably a better real world solution. I should admit that I'm not worrying about the accuracy of the drawing or the modelling very much. too. That means I've got to fit four steps in between 3 (the cast shadow) and 0. I'm not using my tags at all. So I'm doing the minimum of modelling and blending on the light planes. it gives the light planes a physicality that doesn't come across in a photo. using the brush lke a trowel. as I was at the beginning of these studies. 2 and 1 cubes. That should be about right. I'm painting what I know I can hit with paint So for these studies. In may ways. letting the texture of the paint do most of the work for me. I'm not painting what I see. These studies are taking me back to the Harold Speed elementary tone exercise. That also means pushing up the tones of the shadow planes of the cubes and spheres a touch. It's interesting. Although I could work them all out with the tags.

just paint straight from the tube. Coffee Pot and Lemon . This coffee pot has already featured a few times in the series of tonal still life drawings. I have to do some drastic compression to paint it. and working on canvas panels. I'm a quarter of the way through. Although I have a nagging feeling that I should have spent more time trying to get the relationships between the tones exactly right.With the first batch of ten studies of the objects in form light. but it's fun and it makes them stand out. and must work correctly with the relationships between the light planes. The backgrounds and shadow areas are laid in as thinly and evenly as possible. It's a good subject for these studies because it presents me with the full range from white across most of it's surface to black on the handle and lid. I'm not using any medium now. These two can define the difference in local value between the object and the surface it's sitting on. It's probably not a good thing.Tone Studies Part Six Having had quite enough of cubes and spheres after the last ten studies I dragged out my old coffee pot and a lemon for a few more. Perhaps the strongest lesson I've taken from it is the importance of the relationship between the shadow plane of an object and it's cast shadow. . It almost feels like sculpting the plane out of paint. and that I should have spent more time observing the spheres more carefully. In some of these studies the paint has been piled onto the light planes pretty thickly. I do think I've gained a lot from this exercise. Anything goes in the lights. I've started to apply paint differently as this series has progressed.

there was only going to be this one. It couldn't be simpler. Come two in the afternoon I have to stop on sunny days. I think part of the reason I've stopped using mediums is that the surfaces of these panels give such nice handling. but lost something in the finishing stages. It started ok. although people will argue over it. I was less than happy with this one. It doesn't seem to make a blind bit of difference which. It's on a fine linen canvas panel made from 12m MDF. It's more important to stay as far back from the easel as you can and still be able to touch it with a brush as far as I'm concerned. Here's the set up in the (ahem) studio. Although lately I've been wondering about trying paint the effect of direct sunlight. It's often that way in painting land I find. which probably means it was taken early in the morning on a fine day. but the surface is beautiful to work on. they've become unnecessary. This one is a bit on the large side for me at 12 X 16 inches. But never say never. There's a window which goes down to within two feet of the floor and desperately needs a clean directly to the left. this one has been given an oil ground. which went on forever. I think Michael Harding's foundation white oil primer for this one. Which is probably why I'm less than happy with it. the linen is attached with rabbit skin glue. After sealing the panel with PVA. . but I'm often sitting too. As with most of the panels I'm using at the moment. but it took me six goes to get what I wanted. I have a feeling that there's something wrong with the tonal relationships somewhere. The light looks quite blue in this shot. Originally. since I get direct sunlight through the window. It looks like I stood up to paint this one.This was the first study of a series of six. It takes forever to dry.

to the extent that I don't try to match what I see. but always I've tried to keep the relationships true. There's something physical about putting down the right tone. For the sixth and last study I added a lemon. Less contrast gives a feeling of more diffuse. but through this series of coffee pot studies I've begun to understand it on more than just an intellectual level. I seemed to have complete freedom with the value of the background. the angle of the plane I'm painting to the light. I've taken some liberties with the values in this one. I think I did. of how varying the balance can change the feel of the light. I've had a couple of mildly odd experiences whilst doing these studies. The cubes represent the white and black areas of the pot. . If the relationship to what's already there is right. all over light. I think it was around this point that it started to occur to me that I could push the tonal balance up into the light end of the scale or down into the darks. The main difference between this one and the first one is that the shadow plane of the coffee pot is darker in this one. And I know I've said it before. so keeping the relationships constant means the other shadow planes getting darker too. and are a key to the values. it can feel almost like dragging light across form. I've also tried to keep up most in my mind. well. It could almost be a proper painting if it had some colour in it. Mostly it's just been sweat though. expand (as far as paint will allow) or compress it. at any given time. All that really mattered was that the ratios between the tones were preserved. I've tried. to stick to four main values for each object: The light plane. more focused and more directional effect to the light. I'm starting to get a glimpse of the possibilities of tone. At least. the shadow plane and the cast shadow. I'm moving further away from what I see all the time. It could have gone much darker than this and still worked I think. Although I'm more free with the tones in the picture. More contrast creates a stronger. as far as I can. but at the same time closer. but of the most enjoyable kind. I know that might sound a bit. I'm trying to observe more accurately how the light behaves.This I think was the fifth. the half tone. This is the last one because I got what I was after on this one. The cast shadows must be darker than the shadow planes of the pot and the lemon. a stronger feeling of light. But the feeling would have been different. dull.

you will do bad ones. just like a cube.. allowing yourself to guess rather than going out to find the truths you want. I've struggled with painting a lemon on a white cloth before. I want to hit the relationships of any given tone to all the others in the picture as close as I can. Now. but in broad general sweeps I'd say that I've learned three main lessons: Firstly. I'm wrapping up this post today with a quote from 'Creative Illustration' by Andrew Loomis: A certain amount of manipulation of values is possible when we know what we are doing. The colour was painted into the grey. If you base your pictures on big basic truths and understanding you will do good ones. whether or not I could do a better job of it now. it's time to get the colours out again and paint some stuff. which made it tough to bring it up as much as I wanted to in places. There are many little things. "It's all in the doing". As my painter friend Marsha said to me in an email recently. By painting grey pictures for three weeks. it's the relationships that matter. The return of colour (but just a bit. Our purpose is not always to catch the effect as it is. then form will appear. Never a truer word said. and all tones in a painting relate to all the others. One can only like or dislike what you do. Here's the lemon a couple of hours into the morning. about a year and a half ago now. and a bit of burnt sienna. half tone. shadow plane and cast shadow are in the right relationship to each other. The second one was little better. I do think I've found one or two. Today was the day I broke my colour fast with a tube of cadmium yellow. Getting the right value makes the plane read correctly and creates form. objects can be simplified down to four main tones. but rather the most dramatic effect possible.and to replicate it as far as I'm able. . It is permissible to do anything you wish in paint. I haven't forgotten the trials that lemon put me through.) Some days you just don't know what's going to happen. Secondly. I've tried to go out and find some truths about tone. If the light plane. I wanted to know. This study was really a test. but for me it bears out what I've learned about tone through the last few weeks of neutral studies. and there are mistakes in it that I can see now. The first one didn't even get finished. so this study was a sanity check. not the degree of contrast. Nobody stops you. the value of a plane shows it's angle to the light. And some alizarin. although the tone studies will continue. Thirdly. blocked in as I would a neutral study.. in fact I needed to know. near the beginning when I'd just started painting again. If you sit and putter with effects. This is just a simple little study.

only quicker and less accurate. sanding after each coat.Elementary Tone Exercise This painting is part of a two part tonal exercise in painting the same subject twice. this book is a real gem. (I plan to review it when I have the time). something I intend to do for future monochromes.Harold Speed . a word about the support. The good Mr. but with quick. I've used a 6mm thick MDF panel which has had two coats of Robersons Acrylic Gesso primer. Before starting to paint. This exercise is about tonal relationships. First stage is to lay out the drawing roughly. and a mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna alkyd paint and turps rubbed on with a rag to give a light grey ground. except to say that it's the best book I've found so far about oil painting. . were he recommends using raw umber and white. This is a time honoured medium. with a wide tonal range. Don't believe the reviewer who trashed the book. I won't go too much into the book itself here. it does exactly what it says on the tin. not accurate drawing. I used Robersons pure gum turpentine and cold pressed linseed oil. Unnecessary if you have a superb eye. What I want to cover here is the method I used to build up the paintings. like with the Bargue drawing technique. cheap modern materials. For the serious student of the philosophy and practice of oil painting. canvas or whatever else you want to use would do just as well for this exercise. except of course that I've used cadmium red and white. even though I've gone as far as cooking my own maroger and making my own sun bleached linseed oil. Strange that. The paint is thinned down to a consistency which allows it to flow well. I've never tried painting with this basic medium. with charcoal. The brush strokes from the gesso get accentuated by the rubbed in grey tone. something like a Rubens panel. but I don't. both the white (I've used flake white) and the raw umber (or cadmium red in this case) are thinned down with a 50/50 mix of turps and linseed oil. and can be had from Amazon for a paltry Ł6. which I know a lot of painters use. I've followed his instructions to the letter here. First. Of course. once in blue. Speed presents a detailed account of what he calls an elementary tone exercise in his chapter on the practical aspects of learning to paint with oils. I used a rough and ready sight-size approach to drawing out. and once in red with a much narrower range. Using a toned ground makes it much easier to judge the tones as they go onto the painting. giving a nice lively ground to paint on. but still covers solidly and opaquely. Back to the painting. The post linked there deals with that part of the exercise in more depth. which I got from a book by Harold Speed called "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials". he/she plainly hasn't the first idea. Mine was about the consistency of butter left out on a warm day.

and will result in errors. That gives you your tonal range. and every other tone will be judged in relation to these. since this will work against the three dimensional effect when you paint the main forms. A loose edge which cuts slightly into the form is best. it's time to fill in the background. Step two . not your lightest tone. Well.mark the darkest and lightest points First thing to do is pick the darkest point on your subject. with particular attention to where they are sharp and where they soften and disappear. I think he's got a good point there. Harold says that you should learn to put down flat. Make sure the paint doesn't go on so thick that you get ridges up against the edges of your subject.fill in the background Once the two extremes of tone are stated. this makes perfect sense to me. as long as it's monochrome. Well I guess this will only be relevant if you're painting a cast.fill in the base and main shadows . the edges should be stated as carefully and accurately as possible. In the case of this cast. and like Harold uses for his exercise. This is because relating tones to the highlights will make them appear too dark in comparison to the white. I've rushed mine a bit here. like I am here. Harold (we're on first name terms now). it was pure the white on the highlights. even paint before you start messing around with flashy textural effects. Step three . but you get the idea. since it's exactly the approach I've been using on my series of 100 still life drawings. I can see no good reason why you can't use something else though. He advises paying particular attention to the edges here. This should be done as evenly as possible. Then find the lightest light. and match that. and put a corresponding dark note on your painting. To be honest. The edges of shadows soften considerably the further away they get from the form that casts them.Step one . makes a point of recommending that you relate tones to your darkest. Although the tone blocks are put in with flat tone.

since the darkest tone will be almost black anyway. But this is simply a more extreme form of what we have to deal with in painting anyway. The difference between them was too great. attention should be given to the edges. This stage took probably the longest of any part of the painting. Because of that.put in the main light block It's important to note that I'm talking about the relationships between them. I've softened them somewhat. I was careful not to throw away pure white on my light block here.lay in the main shadow blocks These are also done with a flat. even tone. Simplifying the main shadow blocks and deciding where to end them is no easy task. it's also much easier to do this with a plain white cast. At this stage. particularly. which means bringing down the surrounding tones. I've already darkened the surface the cast is sitting on. at the light end of the scale. I had to leave some 'headroom' for highlights. making small adjustments to the tone blocks and trying to get the relationships between them as close as I can to what I see. Again. you have your surface covered. To be fair. I think. as far as I can. Step five . particularly where they meet the background. I find trying to do this on a portrait drawing much more difficult. (I thought everyone knew that red is the new black). I'm not matching what I see. This stage should be slightly less complex on a raw umber monochrome. which will be pure white. because my black is red. one to another. and comes with practice. When I get to putting the light tone shape in. But I also have to make sure that the base still reads as black. . Lots of push and pull. My practice with the Bargue drawings and with the tonal still life drawings has helped me here. and lightened the background.Step four . and has a mid tone. I'll be wanting a hard edge up against the background on the left of the cast. or the ratios here. and can begin to judge more carefully the relationships of your tones. that our tonal range is limited. So I'm trying to make sure that the light block reads as light. and the light block wasn't standing out enough. so that means bringing them back up. Since the edges of my main tonal block here against the background are on the shadow side. In this picture.

before any internal modelling is attempted. right? Step seven .final modelling and finishing The last stage. as we all know now. in which case you just get paint everywhere. the more you diddle about with your paint. bring real sparkle to the painting at this point. you will be able to make more expressive sweeps. that will reduce you to small. That has to be a good thing. get a bright colour. and harder where there is a sharp edge. This seems to me to be such a universally useful . Secondly. like a pen.Step six . I've never concentrated on them to this extent. The only really sharp edge is down the left of the cast against the background. Then get some fresh from the tube. Painting. You can make confident. and if you're really good. Harold makes the point that the edges should be dealt with first. Holding the brush as far down the handle as you can allows for grand. and diddle about with it ceaselessly for half an hour on a bit of canvas. which I got too involved with to remember to take any progress shots of. this should be very valuable. Very illuminating. But the bottom of the leg. Harold also goes to some length to advise on how the brush should be held. Likewise the right edge of the neck where a 90 degree change in plane direction creates a sharp edge. Unless you have wobbly old arms like me. definite marks. (indicating rounded transitions between planes). Try it. and just spent lots of time fiddling obsessively. But that stage went a lot quicker for having laid down a solid foundation with this organised approach to building up the painting. fiddly movements. of course. The effect is very different than fiddling and diddling with little tiny movements. there's nothing in the way of the free movement of your brush. and so does the broken plane of the left arm. is that it forces you to work from the general to the specific. The reason for this is that when you only have the large tonal blocks established. But when I get better at handling a brush. Every now and again on this painting. just like a Bargue drawing. has a sharp edge. the more it breaks down and loses the strength of it's colour. But he's right. I managed to put in a sweep which worked. Although I've been looking at edges more in my still life drawings. is putting in the finer modelling and highlights. is not just about copying what you see. work the living daylights out of it. I think. I'm a bit surprised that this painting came of the end of my brush.work the edges As in the previous stages. making them softer where there are smooth transitions. I must be honest. on the left. Most of the edges here are smooth. Unfortunately I'm not. right next to it. Not near the tip. Now I think that they are at least as important as tone in creating a convincing three dimensional illusion. and have to wipe it off again. the task now is to concentrate on the edges where the tonal blocks meet. and put it down with one stroke. and has two great advantages: Firstly. at least almost all the internal ones are. or at least came close. confident sweeps. once you learn to control your brush like this. I've never quite realised before how important they are in describing form. Because of that. One of the strengths of this approach.

I'm quite excited. but you have to think about it to make it happen.approach that I'm beginning to think that it's a basic tenet of producing good representational work. Now I don't want to criticise other people's working methods. I won't deny it. you can do    . especially when it comes to representational drawing and painting. and that you don't have mastery of it. it has to be practiced and practiced until it becomes second nature. Having got so much from this painting and this approach. These are the two points I'll be looking to internalise over the next series of paintings. firstly. But some time ago. My experience of returning to drawing and painting after a ten year gap has taught me that. These are the four phases of learning which this model postulates:  Unconscious incompetence You're unaware that there is a skill to be learned. at least in the early stages. and that you currently don't have mastery of it. and I'm all about practice. but it must work within the entire picture. You sometimes see people who work gradually down a picture. and wake up the next day able to paint like Rembrandt? It isn't going to happen. or it's just fiddling for fiddling's sake. I've sampled one or two books which promise to have found a new approach to either the learning or the practice of drawing and painting. Then. a way of building up a painting which allows me to concentrate on the main tone masses without getting lost in detail too soon. my bullshit detector goes off the scale. Conscious incompetence You're aware that there is a skill to be learned. Wouldn't it be nice of you could go to sleep with a tape playing in the background. Realising how something works is just the first initial stage. my advanced motorcycle riding instructor introduced me a concept of learning which splits the learning process into four phases. I think the overall strength of the work I've seen done like this suffers. and. and secondly. completely finishing each part before they move onto the next. These days. I have to say. These books are popular because everyone would like to be able to short cut their way to competence. you've become competent at the skill. but it seems to me that it's very easy to lose the 'big picture' working like this. It needs to be internalised to the point of unconscious competence. I'm now planning a series of monochrome still life paintings. until it happens without thinking. Unconscious competence You've practiced so much that your competence has become unconscious. Conscious competence Through practice. The Four Phases of Learning Ordinarily. You know just how bad you are and have some idea of how far you've got to go. I'm skeptical of self development books and the like. the full importance of edges. like Neo learning Kung Fu in The Matrix by having it digitally implanted into his brain. There's nothing wrong with detail. It's the only way to learn anything. if I'm honest. I'm skeptical of any approach which promises to be a "magic bullet" for learning any skill. Partly because it stresses the importance of practice. any time anyone tries to tell me different. which I do believe has some relevance. I've been seduced for a time myself. no exceptions. What I've taken from this exercise is. Since I returned to painting. There are no short cuts. the point of which will be to practice and internalise what I've learned here.

and not worrying about the standard of what I produce. I've just convinced myself that it does apply. but I'm practicing in order to achieve stage three. and haven't developed it. practicing. apparently.it automatically without having to think about it. it's taken me some time to find my level. Of course there are many other skills demanded by representational work: the motor skills required to make a line go where you want it to go. Closer to stage two. of gradually realising exactly how far I've got to go. "Lemon: Yellow. many of my skills had atrophied. Finding your level Drawing and painting is a complex business which demands the mastery of many skills. no thinking person would deny that. Other approaches. Becoming competent at drawing and painting requires a certain level of mastery of all these skills.' through hard work and practice. what does it really look like. through prolonged disuse. this angle formed by the line from the point at the right up to the top. and this has meant a lot of heartache. Although I've told myself many times over the last few months that I shouldn't be trying to produce finished work. Small bright bit this shape. it became immediately obvious to me that. balancing compositions. Hmm. skill at handling various materials. I still didn't immediately find a good spot to start from. I believe that it takes practice in order to see something properly. There's certainly a belief among many people that art 'just happens. I do think that there's some mileage in applying this to representational drawing and painting.' you either have it or you don't. I've never subscribed to this view. Always I've been trying to reach too far. We have to do this before we even get to thinking about how we're going to represent that on paper or canvas. I'm not so sure. thus the (in my view) impoverished nature of much of this kind of work. When I returned to painting about ten months ago now. "This width. in my view. I know I'm not very good. If my old school teachers are to be believed." In short. the first and most important skill is seeing. Dark shape there. (again. Regardless. currently. . Although I realised pretty quickly that my work left a lot to be desired. Yes. I try to devote more time to this skill than to any other. Of reaching the stage of conscious incompetence. of the actual shape of the object. We need to get from thinking. I've repeatedly tried to do work which I really wasn't capable of yet. A lot of people who do this work and believe themselves to be at stage four are actually languishing at stage one. but it's perfectly possible. this intensity.) for someone with perhaps less aptitude to be better than someone who is more 'gifted. As far as I'm concerned. I want to paint stuff that looks like the stuff it is meant to look like. oval" to thinking. I've quite patently been trying to do work which I hadn't the necessary skills to do well. and have repeatedly proved to myself how much I had to learn by repeatedly falling flat on my face. etc. I see it now as a period of finding my level with all these skills. We need to take time to override our usual way of seeing the world symbolically. I've always had some level of aptitude for drawing and painting. abstract or conceptual art say. I've largely ignored my own advice despite myself. I would put myself somewhere between stage two and stage three. to become consciously aware of all the nuances of tone and colour. You've completely internalised said skill. but I do think that the lack of a benchmark for quality in these areas promotes the mistaken belief that you can move straight to stage four without having to bother actually learning anything. there's such a thing as aptitude. that I should be just practicing. but I've also been very lazy in the past. Looking back over the last ten months. this height.

different compositions. to try out different lighting. I think that's partly why I've been yo-yoing between thinking I was doing ok. I'm concentrating more now on matching the ratios between the tones. and thinking that I was failing utterly. Right from the off. That gives me the freedom to experiment more. an escape into a world where everything made sense. but they've been very hit and miss. through my tonal still life drawings. I believe that the more recent still life drawings do a more convincing job of expressing light than any of my paintings so far. never mind the right colour or tone. or because I had some particular goal that I was working towards. Learning the Lessons So I've reached a decision. and only then. They're a lot more simple to produce than the paintings. particularly the more recent ones. I was thinking today whilst I was doing a small drawing of a couple of garlic bulbs that I'm rediscovering the sheer joy of what it is to create a picture. The frustration has melted away. and different subjects. I started painting. And I should have started only with line. I drew because I loved to draw. yes. and take less than half the time per picture. and they're doing it entirely without the use of colour. and I've really started enjoying my work. and how when I drew back then. but I think that if I do. that matching the tones I see in nature is not possible. I didn't draw because I felt I had to. Drawing was an escape for me back then. In all of them. and it's all about the light. Despite my initial obsession with matching colours as a route to catching light. It's now obvious to me that I shouldn't have touched a brush before I'd worked on my drawing skills for a while. This series has shown me that what I should have done is started with drawing. When I was reasonably competent at getting things the right shape. At some point. I'm now realising that unless the balance of the tones in the picture is right. I don't want to do it. where I could relax and just live in the moment. which I've yet to reach. which is what I mean by the tonal balance. I will hopefully attain a reasonable mastery of tone. Some of them I've enjoyed. It reminds me of when I was a kid. I can't ignore that. With these simple. I've been rediscovering that feeling. It'll also be a much less frustrating experience.Take my paintings. The still life drawings aren't like that. unassuming little still life drawings. engrossed in what I was doing. the light will not be as convincing as it could be. as far as I'm concerned. and before I'd learned to see a bit better. But there's something else. they feel completely different when I'm working on them. I should think about applying what I've learned in a new medium which will require the assimilation of more new skills: paint. I'm going to give up painting for a while. . since my materials necessarily limit the tonal range available to me. I'll get something right one day. More than that. I think it's fair to say that all the painting I've done so far has been accompanied by frustration. and think I've cracked it. I should have moved on to tone. I'll progress more quickly and in a more natural way than if I keep steaming ahead as I've been doing. I went into another world for a time. I'm pretty pleased with almost every one of them. only to get it completely wrong the next. I've found my level with these drawings. I've come round to thinking. and some I've been quite pleased with. I've spent a lot of time on painting techniques when I couldn't even get an object the right shape. My new series of still life drawings have helped me to see my paintings with new eyes. Then. What's really brought this home to me is my current series of 100 still life drawings. I can now see errors in the tonal balance which are working against the feeling of light.

I think I've finally found a level at which I can work comfortably.That's what I mean by finding my level. through a gradual process of stepping backwards. It requires no effort on my part to make a start on one. as a rule. http://www.co.learning-to-see. I just enjoy doing them. because I love doing them. and not clouding up my mind with negative thoughts about how good the work is. and also. I think that the drawings are better for that. For the first time since I started working again. that I'm learning more because I'm enjoying myself. do best at things they enjoy. I'm doing these drawings for the simple enjoyment of doing them. crucially. and without beating myself up about how bad they are. I've said before that I think that human beings.uk/ . So. So I think that these drawings will help me to get from conscious incompetence to conscious competence without having to do myself all kinds of mental damage along the way. without any histrionics. The journey has just got a lot more fun. I can do these drawings without any emotional roller coasters.

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